During the 2014 Olympic opening ceremony in Sochi, the World could witness the familiar Olympic symbols again: the torche, the flag, the rings and the mascots: three giant, stuffed-animal-like Sochi mascots, featuring a polar bear, a leopard and a hare. All three of these animals are indigenous to the country. These Olympic symbols, logos and mascots are very popular and therefore subject of plagiarism and corruption. These so-called Olympic properties are the visual ambassadors of Olympism. The Olympic symbol in particular, seen by millions of people throughout the Olympic Games, is one of the world’s most recognized brands. The Olympic properties have become iconic – they are more than just “logos”. People around the world associate them with the fundamental values of sport and of the Olympic Movement. The Olympic Games are the largest and most complex sporting event in the world. The Games are as much a celebration of innovation and creativity as they are of humanity, fair play and sporting excellence. Because of their honored place on the world stage, it is essential that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) protect its Olympic properties. So how are these Olympic properties protected? In this blog I will explain in short how the IOC protects the Olympic properties at an international and a national level.
Intellectual property protection
The intellectual property (IP) system, and trademarks in particular, play a pivotal role in safeguarding the unique character of the Olympic Games and their identifications. The IOC benefits from an exceptional international legal instrument that protects the Olympic symbol: the Nairoby Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol, adopted in 1981 and administered by WIPO. Any state that has signed up to this treaty is obliged “to refuse or to invalidate the registration as a mark and to prohibit by appropriate measures the use, as a mark or other sign, for commercial purposes, of any sign consisting of or containing the Olympic symbol, as defined in the Charter of the International Olympic Committee, except with the authorization of the International Olympic Committee.” The Olympic symbol and other designs of Olympic torches are also protected by design registration. Also protected are the words “Olympic”, “Olympiad” and “Olympic Games”. and the City+Year word mark – for example, “London 2012” and “Sochi 2014”.
National protection of Olympic properties
Numerous countries have adopted permanent national legislation protecting the Olympic properties. Although the Olympic Movement’s efforts have contributed to the implementation of legislation, the parliaments that have adopted such measures also understand the importance of sport and the Olympic Movement, as well as the need to protect the properties related to them. Adopting specific legislation has also proven necessary in countries that host an edition of the Olympic Games. Such legislation concerns not only the protection of the Olympic properties, but also provides the means to fight against ambush marketing and to regulate advertising, in particular in and around Olympic venues. The first specific legislation related to an edition of the Olympic Games appeared in Canada prior to the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games. Since the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, all host countries have adopted such legislation; this is also true for future editions of the Olympic Games, such as Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018.
For example, in relation to the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has adopted the London Olympic and Paralympic Act. This legislation extends legal protection to all properties associated with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Moreover, it forbids any entity from associating itself, or its products or services, with the Olympic Games to gain a commercial advantage, unless expressly authorized to do so by the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). The law also provided local authorities and LOCOG with the means to fight ambush marketing efficiently, and to prevent the unauthorized sale of Olympic tickets and other ambush marketing activities at an Olympic venue or in the air space surrounding it. In Russia for Sochi 2014, the Federal Law No. 329-FZ “On physical culture and sports in the Russian Federation” dated 04.12.2007 (part 1 of Article 11 the Sports Law) is the fundamental legal act, which fixes the basis for the Russian Olympic movement.
The International Olympic Committee works closely with social media platforms to prevent unauthorized use of its properties. It also closely follows the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) project, opening the door to new extensions of top level domain names, in order to protect its Olympic properties on the Internet. Private sector partners and sponsors play a pivotal role in the Games. They provide the latest technology and expertise to help stage the world’s largest and most complex sporting event. Olympic sponsorship entitles companies to different marketing rights in various regions, category exclusivity and the use of designated Olympic images and marks. The Olympic Licensing Programmes produce officially licensed products from the organizing committees for the Olympic Games, the National Olympic Committees and the IOC. These commemorative products bear the emblems and mascots of the Olympic Games or Olympic teams. By maintaining high merchandising standards, they act as creative and pro-active custodians of the Olympic brand, enhancing the Olympic image and ensuring quality goods for the public.
By protecting its Intellectual property, the Olympic Movement is able to leverage its reputation and attract commercial partners. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) generates 45% of its revenue from corporate sponsorship and 47% of its revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights, with the remainder coming from ticketing (5%) and licensing (3%). Not only does this provide valuable resources for funding the Games, it also contributes to the development of sport and promotes broader humanitarian goals in all corners of the world.
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Fei, G., "A Study on Legal Protection of Olympic Intellectual Property", The International Sports Law Journal, (2011), No. 1-2, pp. 69-71.
- Stuart, S. and T. Scassa, "Legal Guarantees for Olympic Legacy", Entertainment and Sports Law Journal, 9 (2011), No. 1.
- Guan, W.A, "Comparative Study of Olympic Marks Protection and Beyond: the United States, Canada, and China", in Globalization and Local Adaptation in International Trade Law, Vancouver, UBC Press,
2011, pp. 256-284.
- De Werra, J. and M. Chappuis, Sport et propriété intellectuelle = Sport and Intellectual Property, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2010.
- Chappuis, M., "La protection des propriétés olympiques, in Sport et propriété intellectuelle = Sport and Intellectual Property, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 2010, pp. 1-11.
- Mey, B., "China, the “Intelllectual Property Black Hole” Hosts the XXIX Olympiad: Measures the People’s Republic of China Undertook to Secure the Protection of Olympic-Related Intellectual Property Rights, The Journal of World Intellectual Property, 12 (2009), No. 2, pp. 153-173.
- Padley, H., "London 2012: Five Years and Counting", Maxwell’s International Sports Law Review, 7 (2007), No. 3, pp. 33-38.